Time to Devour the Garden

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What better way to enjoy a garden than to eat it, one powerfully tasty vegetable at a time at a themed dinner.

Potatoes. Beets. Beet roots. Butternut squash. Pesto from basil plants. I can’t even recall all that adorned the table thanks to our gracious hostesses Penny (below right) and Gwen and everyone else’s contributions.

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The fact is, unless you count the hanging basket of pink fuchsias and the geraniums and the cherry tomato plant on my patio that has generously dropped some organic lusciousness into my expectant palms, I don’t even have a garden.

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It’s always the little extra touches that make a dinner party special! I loved the way Penny found these dried flowers, or at least great look a likes, from a dollar store. These and the nasturtiums were perfect on top of the long strips of Kraft paper she substituted for a table cloth.

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Just about everyone else around the table has a plot at SFU’s community garden on Burnaby Mountain which, as you can see from one of my earlier blog posts, is a veritable jungle of growth that is not immune, unfortunately, to very hungry deer. Still, there were enough ingredients for this tasty salsa appetizer. Salsa

Penny and Liz, her daughter, had to re-arrange furniture and borrow a bench to accommodate us.

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Our token male,  Drew, (Aloha)  is a wonderful cook. He  took cooking classes while travelling in Thailand and Cambodia, and his delicious Thai soup kicked off the first course. It was smooth with just a bite of ginger and lemon grass to wake up the palate.

Drew and his wife Michelle also shared a rich dark slab of an appetizer of hot chili chocolate (they grew the chili’s). Cut through a piece of that luscious mocha and take a swig of red wine and you’re pretty much on your way to an out of body experience. I’m not even sure how these two managed to stay awake since they had already attended three birthday parties earlier in the day with their five-year-old twins.

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There were ruby beets from Gwen and Penny’s garden plot. Just add feta.

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 Icy pale cucumbers made for a refreshing transitional taste after Drew’s soup and before the main courses.

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Shona made pasta with pesto, Arlette made some curried potatoes and I put together a butternut squash and pear casserole, but at this point, you’ll just have to take my word for that. Apparently,  I was too busy eating to keep up with my photography duties.

Annie and Li arrived with sushi. (No photo of that either).

Gwen made her delectable pumpkin cheesecake, Penny added a plum torte, and what’s a harvest dinner without a pie? Frances came through with a peach one.

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I was so full, I could only eat the cheesecake.

And when it was all done, we were sent home with packets of seeds for next year.

From Shona

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(So apropos for someone who runs a before and after school care program for four kids out of her lane way house, when, that is, she’s not counting air miles after dropping a few thousand on a recent Galapagos Islands trip that she went on with her sister, with the goal of catching up with Mr. Money Mustache.) Her sister is going to start guest blogging for him.

And dill from Penny and Gwen.

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I think I left mine on the kitchen table.

So, what delectable morsels have you enjoyed from your own gardens or from all that shopping at farmer’s markets this summer? I love the Ladner Market. That’s where I got most of my fresh food this summer.

Burnaby Heights Garden Tour

Everyone has a garden now. Community gardens. Windowsill gardens. Patio Gardens. Backyard gardens. Raised beds. Temporary gardens that are being installed while stalled construction projects allow gardeners to lease the space as developers wait for a more opportune time to build in the middle of congested city blocks. If you can find some dirt and a pot, you might as well let that patch of land do double duty: grow some food and beautify. The tricky part, if you live in the Lower Mainland, at least for some of us, is getting that patch of land in the first place.

I went on a self-guided walking tour, Harvesting on the Heights. Gwen invited me and we were  joined by her gardening partner, Penny. They have a large garden plot up at SFU, albeit, they’re sharing it with the pesky deer.

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We started at the Heights Community Garden, a luscious little patch along Pender at Ingleton in North Burnaby which I failed to get a photo of for some reason.  It’s a square of reprieve full of  kale and pink poppies, squash and cucumbers, pole beans and parsley, even some strawberries.  A welcoming patch with a path meandering through it, happy to welcome guests. From there we carried on to the first garden with a beautiful greenhouse that the owner Dave Gaglardi custom built and trellises full of grape leaves, Chardonnay variety in the back yard and a red growing along the fence.

There was even a CBC television reporter, Bob Nixon, turned beekeeper, inside a tent, frenzied bees wanting to get back to their honeyed gift bumping up against the netting and buzzing around our heads. The honey at $10 a jar was a deal and as fresh as you’ll ever hope to get it.

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Overall there were seven gardens on the walking tour. Of course, some captivated more than others but each one of them was interesting.

The stand out garden for me was that owned by  Alison Bridger. It could be because she is a landscape architect, the principal of Terra Carta, with addresses listed in both Canada and France.

When she bought the house 25 years ago, she had a blank canvas to cultivate. Bamboo, seen here in the picture below, has been the bane of her existence. She knew it was invasive when she planted it, she just didn’t realize, she said, how much. Note to self: If you plant bamboo, make sure it’s in a pot. Unless you want it to creep into your foundation, into your drain pipes, and cost you a lot of money.

Alison The thing that was so appealing to me about Alison’s garden was both its maturity, grasses and interesting plants, and most of all the little accouterments hidden in it. She admits that if she sold her house, that wouldn’t be that hard. But leaving her garden after 25 years would be tough. Each plant is like a friend she said. I’ve watched it grow. I’ve watched it change through the seasons for 25 years.

Hidden away on the side of the house, along a pathway, an old doll put out to play.

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Here’s some of her mother’s costume jewelry dangling from a tree branch, ready to light the house with colorful prisms when the sun strikes.

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An old bike on the garage rooftopAlisonsrooftopbike

A bunch of clock faces

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I realize, too late, that I was so taken with all the little things in the garden, that I didn’t actually take a photo of the garden itself or any of the plants. Oops. You’ll have to take my word for it. The positioning of plants, front to back, was exactly the way I’d want a garden of my dreams to be.

Here’s Gwen sitting in a corner of Alison’s garden that would be a great place for afternoon tea.

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Then we were off meandering through a few others until another captivated and kept us lingering. Here’s Rick and Barb on their back deck. Aren’t those purple Adirondack chairs fabulous? I loved their garden because of the complete privacy.  They are both travel writers and you can imagine when they return from a trip that their shoulders must just lower a bit after they’ve changed into their comfort clothes and flung open the back door to gaze at their private retreat.

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There’s also the most delightful garden shed named after Frank, a friend who died of cancer. We did get the story and I was paying attention at the time, honest I was, but somehow, not as much as I should have been.   franksshed

Rick likes to collect glass and old glass lamps and transform those glass pieces into garden lamps. He’s got a whole shed full of them.

Here’s a sample from the front garden. gardenlights

I realize I’ve done a horrible job of documenting the gardens. I don’t actually have any plants in these photos but that’s the thing about gardens. It’s not just about the plants now is it? It’s about the people and how, like the gardeners, the spaces are so unique. Some gardeners are strictly focused on the plants and/or the vegetables. Some are about the additions the gardeners choose to sprinkle throughout to enhance the experience. And, the willingness to share is a gardening trait.

You can meet a stranger in a garden and you will always have a focus for a chat. That was true yesterday. It’s always true. And, that’s why gardening can be such a social thing, whether you’re traipsing through other people’s or opening up your own, as those seven generous green thumbs did yesterday.